That Damned Magical Weekend

by Mark Zaugg 1. June 2011 01:49

Some days are magic.  

I'm not talking about just a good day or a really fun day.  I very much mean a magical day that surpasses all expectation, a day that defies explanation, a day that forever changes your world and leaves you a better person at the end of it.  A day that revisits you over and over again to return even more gifts and blessings to you.  

I'm not talking about a day that defines me as a person, although I've certainly had those.  I did not change as a person at all.  I think in my case I'm thinking of a day that defined my direction and forever has changed my course in life.  For the better, I believe.  So much of what I feel is shaping me today can be traced back to one single, special day.

To explain how I got there may very well take my entire life's story.  How about instead I jump in at the point where we have a single dad with not a lot of money and two pre-teen kids to keep amused and occupied in Calgary.  Bicycles and festivals filled a lot of the gap.  We hit every festival I could discover that was cheap and not too far out of the way.  My goal was to be outside and get out of a drafty apartment every single weekend after a hard, cold winter.

I can't explain why the magic happened on the week that it did.  We were at Lilac Fest, we went to SunFest, we went to handfuls of festivals, sometimes two or three on the same weekend.  We saw many of the same people event after event, we met many new people along the way.

My magical day happened August 23 last year.  There are a lot of factors that lead to it.  A festival involving bikes has to appeal to me.  I attended Bow River Flow the previous year (it's first year) and while I originally felt dismissive towards it I found that we sincerely appreciated the moment.  Returning was never a question because my kids hugely connected with it.

If you've been around here a while, you know what happened.  In brief, I changed my mind about who I was going to vote for and decided I had to take a better examination of the candidates.  Win or lose, I decided I would work with my choice and support him or her in their bid for office.  I thought hard about choices, I weighed my options, I took it upon myself as a responsibility.  I chose the right guy, and he continues to prove to me that I made the right decision.

Naheed gets to smile about how he ruined my life.  In reality, I think that feeling of engagement was always there, I just needed a way to express it and a person who I believed would sufficiently represent my views.

But the magic of that weekend is not held solely within political re-engagement.  

Stemming from Mayor Nenshi ruining my life, I began talking about #BetterYYC.  Earnestly trying to do one thing each and every day to make Calgary a better city.  Some days it was literally the one thing dragging me out of bed in the morning.  Some days it feels like I'm completely on my own.  Other days one or two other people jump in, renew my ideas and spur me on.  I'm still trying.  Trying to encourage someone else to do one thing each and every day, trying to do one thing on my own every day.  It originated from that one day, Aug 23.


Last year, for the first year since I was in Jr. High, I rode my bike year round.  I did it for my health, I did it for my lungs, I did it to save money, I did it to save time.  But I did it.  I love riding my bike, now I know that I can completely love riding my bike even when it's 20 below.

A bicycle is my single favourite form of transportation - of freedom.  I know that I can personally extend it to the entire year and do so safely.    That love of alternate transportation reestablished itself at Bow River Flow.  Sure, I rode my bike in the city before, but now it became my primary choice of getting around.  I got to say that for the census this year.  That felt exhilarating.

I've become much more aware of Bike Calgary and I'm feeling a greater affinity to a community of people like me.  I'm very interested in what we're going to develop for bicycle infrastructure in Calgary to make bicycle commuting more attainable to average cyclists.  I've met Sean from Bike Bike who was immeasurably helpful in helping me transition from a fair weather cyclist to the cyclist I want to be.  I feel good to ride my bike along the river every morning and see the dog walkers and say good morning every day.  I attended An Evening With Mia Birk, and got my own copy of Joyride.  I'm not sure if it's ironic or imminently sensible that listening to Mia meant I finally started to understood the Bow River Flow.  

These are all ways that the decision to reconnect with my bike year round continues to return wonderful moments to me.


I thought that somewhere I spoke about how wonderful and surreal it was at the Bow River Flow to have a parade with the Ogden Legion Pipe Band in front and Calgary Escola De Samba behind, while my children and I were in the middle ringing our bike bells in time to the beat.

I'm not Scottish, but I love the bagpipes.  Strong, bold and distinctive, they can rock you, they can be moving, the can express touching heartbreak.  There's never been a pipe band I haven't enjoyed and when they're as good as they were that day I like it all the more.

But Samba?  Wow, the Samba was new to me.  It moved me in a very literal sense.  It was incredible fun to overlay with the festival.

Years ago, my aunt asked if I was a drummer.  Uhm, no, no I wasn't and just where did the question come from, anyways?  Apparently I was tapping out a rhythm and she thought that it sounded pretty good.  I must have a very strong sense of rhythm in me.  In another festival somewhere near the end of the year the kids and I ended up playing in a drum circle and I got the sense of what it was like to really play.  Another good moment.

I'm not sure who runs @yycsamba, but whoever it is found me on twitter and followed me.  I'm a fortunate man, I probably wouldn't have sought them out.  I've appreciated that they get my love for #FunkFridays, but I've had very little actual connection with the school since.  Until #Sambafied.

Last week I got the invite to go to Endeavor Arts and take part in the school's #Sambafied event.  I got to play a couple drums, I got to watch a whole bunch, and I got to reconnect to that kid that beats out rhythms on kitchen floors.  It very much brings out a sense of fulfillment to be part of a group creating something more than you can on your own.  I completely enjoyed it.  I might have to do some creative thinking of how to take it up, but I'll work on it.  It's become this surprising piece of my life that I value greatly.  It may take me a while, but I at the very least I'm a friend of the band and someday hope to be a full member.

One of my favourite parts of #Sambafied was when I got to watch Valerie Roney (or, as I like to call her, @vlrny) hammer on a surdo while completely lit up with joy.  It's easy to understand the appeal after trying it just for a moment.  I want a little more of that joy in my life, too.

I've mentioned Valerie before, but the past week I've been reading her blog cover to cover, if you will.  It's given me pause for thought and a great deal of consideration.  Cause to reevaluate things I've been doing wrong or haven't been doing at all.  I've reconnected, at least somewhat, to my creative writing.  I'm sure it's horrible, but it's horrible *mine*.  There are a few people around that have told me I can implausibly weave a coherent story out of my narcissistically-addled rantings.

And, while I'm at it, I need to mention Art Walk With Art because that was my introduction to Endeavor Arts.  I went out in an attempt to stretch out my #BetterYYC experience and really enjoyed it.  You have to remind me on that more often, Art.  I have to get out to another one soon.


It's good to challenge one's complacency - after all, isn't that what I've been discussing all along?  August 23rd, 2010 was the day I actively started challenging some of the complacency I was getting swamped under.  It hasn't been all smooth sailing, I continue to learn just how dumb I am for a smart guy.

In the process I've tried to make for a better city, and I suspect I might be in the midst of making myself a better person for the effort.  I am feeling more connections with my past, I'm remembering things I used to do that brought me joy that I haven't been doing.  I've already reconnected with my love of space through the interest of my children, now I've been rediscovering more things I'm passionate about.  I haven't specifically changed as a person, but I feel more freedom to strike out and be the man I want to be.  Stretching, growing, feeling better about myself.  Taking good chances.

I'm not sure where I'm going, I just know it's a better direction.

A recent conversation

by Mark Zaugg 11. April 2011 02:58

I have had some stunningly fantastic conversations recently.  Deep, interesting and insightful conversations with some really fascinating people.  Some of them are really short, and really amazing - don't think they all have to be hour long epic stories. 

The single best conversation I had today was with my kids. 

As a parent, I'm pretty sensitive to different details around me.  Time with my kids is precious and every second needs to count.  Some days work better than others, but I genuinely try to make every hour of every day worthwhile. 

I knew this was a weekend that wasn't going to go great because I had work I had to get accomplished.  Fair enough, we still spent time together and had fun time together as a family.  But I try to minimize the impact of external factors. 

Talk turned to provincial politics and my new-found sense of engagement.  We discussed how we could use our time together to be productive and still have great time together.  One of the things we mentioned was how we delivered signs on the Nenshi campaign, how we helped each other and how we rewarded ourselves with ice cream and celebration together. 

So I told the kids that politics meant simply to make group decisions.  One of the things I'm sensitive about is that some of the upcoming events are going to impact our time together and I want to keep our together time as great time.  We made some group decisions today on how to approach some of the upcoming weekend events. 

Afterward I asked the kids why they thought I was involved with the Alberta Party.  My daughter's answer was, "Because you care about democracy."  My son's answer was, "Because you want everyone to be involved." 

I don't have an answer better than those. 

Alberta's future is bright if we can give our children the opportunity to be brilliant.  We need to improve those group decisions we have to make.  We need better politics.  We need better governance.  We will create our future, we will reach it through widespread engagement in democracy. 

My Day in less than 15 minutes of typing.

by Mark Zaugg 17. October 2010 12:02

I woke up after staying up late to strike at the Music Club I volunteer with.  (Issue #1: Arts scene in Calgary)  Make a pot of coffee, catch up with a bit of #yycvote.  Rock skimming the pond detail today. 

I drive down to my Dad's in Ward 9 to pick up my kids. (Issue #2: Traffic and Issue #3: Too many improperly placed campaign signs)  We drive back home so I can shower, get addresses, and grab another cup o' goodness.  About to drive my kids down to do a course with Child Safe Calgary.  (Issue #4: Safe neighbourhoods)

I'm hoping to go door knocking.  I have to go from Lakeview to Palliser.  (Issue #5: Getting from Lakeview to Palliser)  Side tangent: I'll spare a thought that the exact same detour is the one we'll be facing in the NE without a traffic tunnel under the airport runway.  Have you listened to the complaints about traffic in the SW?  Do we need to repeat our mistakes with the tunnel?  (Issue #6: Airport Tunnel)

Back to my place to make dinner.  (Issue #7: Affordable housing / secondary suites)  After dinner I'm taking a nap, because tonight I'm working a casino in support of WP Puppets.  (Issue #8: More on the arts, but also funding via casinos, social justice, education in mathmatics)

This is what affects me on a daily basis.  C'mon, Naheed Nenshi, give me some answers.

Issue #1 = Better Idea 12
Issue #2 = Better Idea 5 and Better Idea 9
Issue #3 = Better Idea 6
Issue #4 = Better Idea 7 and Better Idea 11
Issue #5 = Better Idea 9, extra detail is here.
Issue #6 = Better Idea 4
Issue #7 = Better Idea 1
Issue #8 = Better Idea 10 and Better Idea 12.

I'm voting Nenshi.  He's addressing what affects me today.

A commentary on Alberta's Maintenance Enforcement Program

by Mark Zaugg 23. November 2009 23:30

On Friday, November 20, 2009 the Executive Director of the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program, Manuel da Costa, was interviewed on the Calgary Eyeopener

The interview was preceded by an unfortunate woman who was having difficulty collecting child support from the father of her child.  She had lost her apartment and had to move back with her parents.  The father was, in her story, doing drugs and avoiding his role as parent to the child.  It's a disturbing story, a compelling story, and not at all unrealistic to be exactly as she portrayed. 

The interview itself was framed around the $2.5 billion dollars owed to parents in arrears.  The interview may be available from the Eyeopener website, available only in Real Audio format.  I make no promises if it will be available or for how long. 

I was angry.  Even before the interview I started firing off tweets of complaint on twitter to @eyeopenerbob. 

@eyeopenerbob Hold up! I'm a "beat dead" dad. I'm living in poverty paying child support for my kids. I have reported MEP for abusing me 
@eyeopenerbob There is endless frustration dealing with a mindless, heartless bureaucracy that hides behind cherry picked stats and no... 
@eyeopenerbob no responsibility for their own abuse or the abysmal way they treat parents - BOTH parents. 
@eyeopenerbob They do not live up to their own code of conduct. I want fairness and balance. I expect none. 
@eyeopenerbob Please, PLEASE stop using the term "deadbeat" parents. It's a huge black brush tarring everyone with a strawman argument. 
@eyeopenerbob There is an entire department in place to enforce the financial half of the court order. Where is enforcement of the rest? 
@eyeopenerbob How about the way MEP throws out penalties for late payments? I'm struggling enough. Penalties just add to my burden. 

At this point, the interview started.  Some of these tweets are direct rebuttals at Mr. da Costa's comments. 

@eyeopenerbob How about the equity behind the statistics? How valid are they? You cross the line, you get tarred and there is hell to pay 
@eyeopenerbob "No matter how much pressure we put on them." The first thing that happens is they take your license. 
@eyeopenerbob They have a single big hammer and slam it down relentlessly. 
@eyeopenerbob They go after anything and everything. If you don't fit into their preset pattern, they assume you're a "deadbeat." 
@eyeopenerbob NONSENSE! I talk to them and I get abused on the phone or told, "You have to meet your resonsibility." 
@eyeopenerbob Payment arrangement? Pay now, pay by direct withdrawal, or we're going after you HARD. 
@eyeopenerbob Money is enforced. The rest of the court order does not matter. I don't have the money to cause enforcement. 
AWGH. Odds of me getting back to sleep after THAT interview are nil. Might as well get on with the day. 

It was not an easy interview to listen to.  Mr. da Costa sounds very suave and makes the situation seem unfathomable that anyone could possibly be in arrears without willfully cheating the system or lying to the Collections Officer.  I know very well the situation on the ground is very different and the treatment I have received from MEP most definitely does not meet their mission statement or their values statement.

I have personally run across Mr. da Costa previously.  When I complained about exceptionally poor treatment I received at the hands of the Maintenance Enforcement Program's Collection Officers, the end result was that my concerns were brushed away and the 'apology' I received from Mr. da Costa was, "We're sorry that you feel that way."  It is, without doubt, the least sincere non-apology I have ever received in my life.

So when I heard him in an interview talk about how fair they were to debtors and how easy it was to set up payment arrangements with the department I was very upset and cynical.

Happily, I received the message, "Thanks for the note.  Could one of our show producers call you for your side of this story?"  Absolutely, yes.

My story is long and complicated, like pretty much every single other divorce story out there.  It's filled with two villains and two heroes (both the same people, by the way) and is virtually impossible to fit into a ten minute description.  My encounter with MEP runs just about as long as my separation and is every bit as complicated.  After trying to explain as much as possible, the producer asked if I would consider writing a commentary in response to Mr. da Costa.  The script I wrote follows the clip.

This isn't about paying Child Support, this isn't about my divorce, this is about the horribly shoddy treatment meted out by the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program - to both parents.  They've done a terrible job as an organization, reform is warranted and long-past due.


zaugg_commentary23nov09.mp3 (2.65 mb)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
I am a divorced father of two and pay child support monthly. Parents who do not pay their allotted child support anger me, because they make my dealings with the Maintenance Enforcement Program much more difficult.
 
On Friday's Eyeopener, Manuel da Costa said that in times of financial distress, one could simply call the MEP and make payment arrangements. My experience has been quite different from what he described. When hard times have come and I have had to speak to a Collections Officer at MEP, I am at their mercy. The majority try to be helpful and cooperative, but I have been treated unfairly and discourteously when I felt I most needed help.
 
When experiencing financial hardship, I have been held under a suspicious microscope, accused of hiding money, accused of dodging my responsibility to my children. I have not been offered payment plans, I have been threatened with the withdrawal of my driver's license and garnishee of my wages.
 
Collection Officers are brusk, rude and sometimes offensive towards me. Those same people are polite and professional when speaking with my lawyer or payroll manager.
 
The amount of arrears owed to parents is staggering. That number comes from the court orders in the divorce or separation process. The Maintenance Enforcement Program actively and aggressively enforces the court-ordered child support payments. But there is no government program for the non-financial part of the court order. If non-custodial parents are having problems such as access to their children, their only recourse is expensive legal help.
 
Mr. da Costa minimizes how difficult it can be to have meaningful, significant communication with the MEP. By focusing on only financial issues, the MEP has a very narrow view of the issues at hand, and great power to enforce collection. It isn't working well for either custodial or non-custodial parents. It is time for a meaningful discussion on the program as a whole.

For the Calgary Eyeopener, I'm Mark Zaugg.
 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Siksika Skies

by Mark Zaugg 14. September 2009 22:21

"Oki napa - Welcome."

I only wish I could speak with the graciousness and eloquence of the Siksika elder, Clement Bear Chief.  (Thanks Mom!)  I feel great shame I didn't write down his name so I could give him proper credit.  If you know it, please write a comment, I want to fix that.

Please, before reading this take a look at Alan Dyer's gorgeous photo from the evening to set your mind in the feel of the story.

The elders of the world carry the wisdom of a lifetime of experience.  I often think that it is the great generation that is passing before us.  A generation that should be lost and unrecoverable to us.  But as the elders pass they are replaced by those who take up the mantle and carry the wisdom anew.  It is our responsibility to listen, to hear their strength and wisdom, and to pass it along to ourselves and our children.

It's also a shame that the Siksika's rich heritage and stories could pass from us as well.  I am a white man.  However I very much felt welcomed amongst some wonderful people last Saturday as they shared their skies with me and my kids.

I took notes as quickly as I could, but they pale with regards to the stories that were told.  I could go back a hundred times and sit in absolute wonder over and over again.  Mistakes are my own and I wish most to share just a fraction of the magic of last Saturday night.  For one night, I felt the Great Maker included me with his peoples and the stories are true for my family as well.  I truly mean no disrespect or to cause offense, I hope it to be a statement of the welcoming I felt.

---

The elder started with the firm belief that we came from the stars, and we will go back to the stars in return.  If the white man had only listened when they arrived, they would understand that the Siksika knew about the skies from the legends they told.

The legends are from below, upon and above the earth.  Each legend is intertwined; as one story concludes, it is the point upon another story begins, and the legends meet and relate to each other.  The elder said he could talk all night relating the legends, of that I have no doubt whatsoever.  He mentioned the legends give peace and relaxation, and many people fall asleep while listening to them.  I dearly hope to experience that.

One of the first tales he related is most important to what I relate here:

A man climbs up a mountain and once he reaches high upon the slopes he sees a most beautiful tree, perfect in size and shape.  The man is amazed by it's beauty and wishes to share it with his friends and family.  But he knows that not everyone will be able to climb the mountain and see it with him, so the man decides to chop down the tree in order to share it with others.  When the tree reaches the bottom of the mountain, the results are predictable and the people do not see the tree in it's beauty.

---

The Creator had finished creating all of creation, the plants and the animals, the world in which we live.  He sent down his people and he worried about how to feed, clothe and to shelter his people.

The Creator called all his animal creations together, and all the animals gathered - except for the moose and the elk, which were off elsewhere, and the antelope which were away running as usual.

The mouse came forward and offered itself to the Creator to feed his people.  But the Creator knew the mouse was much too small.  It would take far too many to make shelter for the people.  Badger, wolf and bear all came forward, but each was not enough to care for the people.

One of the creatures turned and saw a tornado approaching.  The earth trembled and all of creation became afraid.  However it was not not a tornado at all, it was the dust from a giant bull, at the head of the buffalo.  The giant bull did not stop or even slow as it approached the gathering.  The crowd of animals parted in order to let the herd pass, fearing that the giant bull was disrespecting the Creator.  Instead, the bull stopped nose to nose with the Creator, and he volunteered his people to feed, clothe and give shelter to the people.  The Creator agreed, because he saw the buffalo were numerous and large enough to provide for his people's needs.

After this, the buffalo came down in the evening, night after night.  Behind them they left the Buffalo Path - the Milky Way - as a memorial for the protection and care the buffalo provided to the Creator's people.

The buffalo were protectors in many ways for the Siksika.  They provided food and shelter.  They stood between the people and the soldiers that came to bring them harm.  They are an important creation.

---

The stories point to where we came from.  They are a clue as to who we are, and what we are doing.  Where we will go.  The designs on the Siksika tipi always have stars.  The Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Orion, the cluster of stars (Pleiades?) where Spider-man lowered the women to the sun dancers. 

The elder said it was through the listening of the stories that he met and understood the people in the stories.

My personal thanks, I dearly hope I can listen again soon and meet them myself and understand them better.

#meteorwatch

by Mark Zaugg 14. August 2009 23:41

OrionUrsa MajorThe PleiadesCassiopeiaCygnusDracoHydraCanis Major and Canis Minor

These are my old friends.  Very old, much older than myself. 

Many a winter's night I've walked home with my defender hovering over my shoulder.  Indeed, the greatest of my friends has always been Orion the Hunter.  He lives low in the sky through the winter months in Canada, and regularly I'll look up from the horizon to draw strength and courage during the cold nights.

It has always been so.  From my earliest memory, I have always known Ursa Major.  But when I was ten or twelve I was taught to look for Mizar and Alcor.  Today I marvel at the power of eyesight, if it wasn't so cloudy I'd be outside right now trying to see if I could differentiate the double star system. 

Like many people following the moon landings I acquired a keen interest in space exploration.  Like thousands of kids, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut and going into space. 

Okay, I have a heightened interest, but I'm far from an expert.  Other than my friends listed above, I really don't have a great memory of the constellations and asterisms up there.  Living in the city, I don't have a great view of the sky anymore.  I very much treasure my chance to go camping in the summer with my kids and be able to see the full panoply of stars I remember from my youth. 

Precisely one year ago, the kids and I were camping near Lake Louise.  The excitement was we were out at the time of the Perseid meteor shower.  I got to keep my kids up until after midnight with the three of us staring up as the meteors came down.  To see their eyes light up with the opportunity to stay up way past bedtime was cool to itself.  It became an entirely different magic to see their eyes flare up the moment a Perseid flared directly overhead framed between lodgepole pines.  We tried again the next night, but it was far too hard for the kids to stay up two nights in a row.

Having taken vacation earlier in the year, we were not together for the Perseids this year.  When I asked my daughter if she saw the meteors this week, her first reaction was, "Did the Perseids happen this week?  Are they still on?"  The disappointment in her voice matched her excitement from last year. 

I've watched the Perseids on my own in the past.  My favorite year was spent outside my Mom's place where there's less light pollution.  I woke up at 2:00 in the morning and spent the next two hours agape with amazement to see the sky lit up minute by minute.  But my favorite moment of all was last year with my kids. It was a thousand times better sharing it with someone who had never seen that miracle before. 

This year, I've been swept up into the Twitter mania.  One of the messages I saw was announcing Twitter's Meteorwatch.  It sounded fun and exciting, and the chance to hear about meteors across the world was enticing.  I had no idea what I should expect, but I knew it was worth the time to hop on and check it out. 

I did expect to meet wonderful people from across the entire world.  That happened.  I did expect to meet real astronomers with genuine interest and knowledge of what we were observing.  They are outstanding and I have the greatest of respect for each and every one of them.  I did not expect to feel so much excitement seeing others discover meteors on their own for the first time.  I never thought that I'd see the magic I saw in my children in the tweets of others from across the world.  Answering questions as they came up was easy - my favorite questions were those from people who had never before seen a meteor and my absolute joy above anything else was to hear back from someone I'd never met talk excitedly about seeing their very first meteor ever.

It's an addictive rush, and of great relief from the day to day stress to have an element of joy from others that I can feed from.  And feed from it I did.  Apparently I ranked fourth in contributors to the #meteorwatch discussion.  I was shocked considering I was there primarily as a participant and certainly not as an expert.  I know I drove friends crazy with a massive burst of #meteorwatch discussion; I literally tripled my post count in two days.  I hope I made it a little better for the other #meteorwatch participants, and I'm so very grateful for feedback from those who found their first meteor ever over the past few days.

I have so many people to thank for the past week.  Thank you to each and everyone who I spoke with during Meteorwatch.  A very special thank you to NewburyAS for getting the event going in the first place.  An equal thank you to ksastro for the friendship and the photos.  I would never have gotten as involved without you first asking and without your encouragement online.  And one last thank you to RGphotographic for getting this photograph - it's my other favorite of the night.  And a thanks to nscafe for the local touch.

So I had a nightmare last night

by Mark Zaugg 14. October 2008 01:00

I woke up in the wee hours this morning in a cold sweat. 

In my dream, my parents had joined a newfangled cult and one of the cool "features" was the surgical removal of their hands in a "welcoming ceremony for our visitors."  Some extra-terrestrial sadists or something. 

WARNING:  Any organization wishing for you to intentionally remove your hands surgically is a monumentally stupid idea.  Thanks, I'm here to serve. 

So the big woo of the whole thing involved my parents waving their no-longer-extant fingers in the air in a sign of welcome to our alien guests.  Naturally I woke up feeling nauseous. 

***

Okay, I'm a big boy.  I understand the difference between a bad dream and an unholy nightmare.  I know how to calm down after that, too.  You let the dog out and go watch TV with your son who's apparently up early. 

I go into his room nd he's channel surfing since there's nothing on that particularly grabs him.  He settles in to n old standard, Thomas the Tank Engine.  Aaaaand....

http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1030/815759618_4980c17f98.jpg?v=0

Hard drive recovery, the hard way.

by Mark Zaugg 18. September 2008 01:03

Here's a surprise. 

I'm a professional System Administrator.  My standard joke here goes, "Because I get paid for it, not because I'm any good at what I do." 

I have long and hard declared my own ineptitude along the way.  Yes, I forward spam.  Yes, I have the coding skills of a 1970's monkey strung out on polyester.  Yes, Virginia, even I can fail to count to three starting from zero. 

But all in all, you take the battle scars and you learn from them.  It's more than just not repeating the same mistakes all over again, it's also about being wise enough to foresee mistakes before they happen and avert them. 

If you have to choose patch or no patch, take patch.  Just don't patch your production server FIRST if you don't have to.  When you're buying a new computer, the first question ALWAYS needs to be, "What are you planning to use this for?"  I have four computers I use almost daily, and each is good at something and lousy at another. 

A couple years ago, my external hard drive failed.  It was a 250 GB drive formatted with FAT so I could haul it between all my various systems and plug it in.  I'm proud to say, I lost absolutely NOTHING of consequence because it was only my backup drive.

Well, except for those photos of the kids I only stored on the backup drive because I never bothered burning them to CD when I had the chance.

Number one rule of paranoia, never, EVER consider possibly not having a backup of your important files, and never EVER consider not having a spare backup in case the first one goes bad and never EVER consider not testing your backup once you've made it.  That's one rule.  Did you back up your files lately?  BACK THEM UP!  NOW!  DON'T WAIT!

Well, what keeps me running in the professional class is my ability to recover after spectacularly failing.  Sometimes it's trial and error.  Sometimes it's using a great deal of searching the web.  Almost always it's trying to find someone else's experience and following their solution.

I first hit the web.  There are hundreds of programs out there for data recovery.  A few dozen that look sorta promising.  Most are costing around $100, give or take.  Not a lot that look appealing.  For me, it's a real pisser to go through the effort of downloading a trial version which may or may not let me look at my lost files, then go through the effort of paying to hopefully recover the files I may or may not get.  I'm wary of the Symantec's of the world (where good software goes to die) that have this massive promo department but the software itself just isn't very good.  Sure, any of these *may* recover my files, but that's a lot of time, effort, trust and "if's" to wind my way through.

On the other hand, I trust anything licenced under the GPL.  Not because I can read the code and figure out what it does, but someone could.  (Not that anyone necessarily does, either, by the way.  Don't hang yourself with blind trust.  It's a paranoia thing.)

FAT-32 isn't an overly complicated file system, and magically losing the whole drive usually means the entire drive wasn't magically lost.  Think of it like a book with the Table of Contents ripped out.  The data's still there, you just have to go through it page by page to figure out where stuff is.  It just takes a while to piece it all together and you can re-create the Table of Contents later.

My drive likely had the File Allocation Table (that's the "FAT" in "FAT") or the Master Boot Record ripped away.  Sure, I had pictures that I'd rather not lose on there, but it wasn't life or death if I couldn't get them back.  Well worthy of taking a shot at it on my own.  Remember - I am a professional.

Well, I managed to dig up TestDisk from CGSecurity and figured I'd give it a shot.  Downloaded it to my good hard drive, scanned the bad hard drive and let it walk me through the recovery process.  For the record, the first pass found nothing, the second "deeper" pass found the backup FAT and restored using it.  Easy!  Fun!  A little bit convoluted if you don't know what you're doing.  But it worked fine - I got my photos back.

I didn't have to pay a dime, but I did.  They suggested 25 Euros, I donated 10 instead.  I doubt I'll hear harsh words over it, and I'll donate another 10 the next time I use TestDisk.

I recommend letting a professional try to recover your data rather than doing it yourself if you have the choice.  But sometimes the choice isn't easy to make.  Take your time reading the options, and feel free to put your trust in the program.  Christophe Grenier is also a professional and I justifiably put my trust in his abilities.  It's good to have smart friends.  That I've never met.

----

Zarquil Zonar's guide to what to do when your hard drive fails:

1.  Turn off your computer.  The more you write to the hard drive, the higher the risk that you'll overwrite a file you need.
2.  Don't panic.
3.  Remove the failed hard drive and put it into a working computer as a secondary drive.  Beware the gotchas:  Is it an IDE (older) drive or a SATA drive?  If IDE, do you have it as master, slave or cable select?  If you're not sure, disconnect your DVD/CD drive and plug the hard drive on a cable of it's own.
4.  Boot from your good drive, be patient.  I have seen a chdisk actually repair a failed drive when the computer booted.  It's not likely, but it happens.
5.  If your system finds the other drive but does not recognize the formatting, don't panic.  And don't format it.
6.  Download TestDisk or your favourite rescue program.  (Ideally, this happened before you put in the other drive.)  One of the reasons I like TestDisk is that you don't have to install it - just unzip it and run.
7.  Scan the bad drive.  Follow instructions carefully.  Usually the program will guide you with default settings so you only have to hit enter.  But be alert, and pay attention to the warnings.
8.  Don't panic.  Odds are you either recovered your drive or it's unrecoverable.

Remember, a good backup regime means never having to recover a failed drive.

Brought to you by the letters X and O

by Mark Zaugg 3. April 2008 01:13

I have an affliction.

I am a geek. A nerd. One of those social dysfuntionals that loves freshly printed circuits more than the soft caress of life itself. Once I spoke with a recruiter who was supposed to be helping me fill out a list of my interests. She said something to the effect of, "You don't want people to think that after you go around at work for 8 hours that you go home and do more of the same." I'm a System Administrator / Network Administrator / Database Administrator. It's a little bit systemic, don't you think? There's a section of my brain that doesn't turn off, I'm always trying to improve myself and do my work more efficiently. 

Even worse: It's FUN! I still get a kick from sitting around learning how to do something new, installing a program for the first time, optimizing a computer, configuring a webserver, discovering a new piece of hardware, or some such. It's accomplishment in getting something new done. It's a great feeling knowing that I'll be able to use it someday in my job to great advantage.

My financial guidance counsellor has been making a lot of hay with my story. I made a plan and we've stuck to it through some divots and some road blocks, and at the other side I'm working in the IT field and I'm proud of the consulting business I've managed to slowly build. Without the work I put in to repairing, optimizing and restoring other people's computers I would never have had the confidence or show my ability to administrate on a professional basis. The plan was important, and actively working towards my goals has been the only way this could have happened.

So, let me mention another little plan that's going on. Nicholas Negroponte had a vision to put low-cost, quality built computers into the hands of children in the developing world so they could achieve a higher standard of education. Not everyone will be a geek like me - nor ought they. But I believe that everyone deserves a chance to find their talents and discover just how good they can become with the right tools, a little helpful encouragement, and a whole lot of drive to follow through with the dreams they conjure.

The result of Negroponte's vision was One Laptop Per Child and the XO laptop. Last year they had a program called "Give 1, Get 1." If you bought TWO XO laptops, they sent one to somewhere in the developing world and they sent one to you. I waffled for a while over it, but finally decided it was a very worthy idea I could get behind. The program is now ended, but I have hopes they will revive it again.

Last Friday I received my XO laptop. I was tickled green to get it. Like so many other parents who got involved in the program, I planned to share this computer with my kids and let them have at it to see how useful it was to them. They've been complete pros with it, messing about hither and thon, teaching me things I hadn't figured out on my own yet. I'll primarily use it as an eBook reader on the bus. Already I've found a ton of books via Project Gutenburg that I'm looking forward to reading. The kids can pretty much do whatever they want on here and all the power in the world to them.

But there is one aspect that's missing to me in this: This isn't meant to be a cheap laptop, it isn't meant to be just-another-charitable-donation, it isn't meant to be a toy to be neglected by the kids. I want to turn MY little corner of Negroponte's vision into my own little educational venture. Hopefully I'll be able to leverage this into learning Python and improving my programming skills. Or - dare to dream - actually write some fun and educational game that gets used by some kid half a world a way.

This computer is something special. It's comprised of hardware, software, and ideals.

---

Postscript:  Clearly the XO is not perfect.  It didn't send line returns correctly so I had one long run-on post until I logged on this morning and fixed it.  I didn't have the ability to embed links.  And I got as far as the first paragraph before I plugged in a USB keyboard so I could actually type at speed.  But as a learning tool, I'm more than impressed.

Deal!

by Mark Zaugg 30. October 2007 22:37

We're coming up on Halloween, and if you know me, you know what I'm thinking about..

Get a poppy.  Wear a poppy.  It's time to start right now.

From the St. Catherines Standard, talking about donations to the Poppy Fund.

“We’re not selling them. If you don’t have any money, we’ll gladly give you one,” she [Frankie Cowan, poppy chairwoman for Royal Canadian Legion Branch 138 in St. Catharines] said. “Just wear it and wear it proud.”

The kids and I picked up our poppies already last Friday.  It's a big point of pride for me - absent the politics, those are our people who have done or are still doing they very best they can to make the world a better place.

"Poppies must be worn on a person’s left side, above the heart. That is the only criteria",  [Howard Cull, Branch 24 poppy chairman] said.

I bet they'd even forgive an oversight, so long as you wear it visibly and proudly.  Lest we ever forget.

Welcome

Change is the only constant.

Welcome to the semi-exciting new look, same crappy blogger.

All comments are still moderated, I'll approve everything that isn't spam or offensive.  Agreement with His Dorkasaurus is not necessary.

What has changed is that I don't have 1000 junk accounts clogging up the system that I have to go through one by one.  Yes, you too can set up an account and no longer need to wait for me to notice you posted.  Completely optional.

As always:  Have fun, be respectful.

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